Heading through the Poison Canyon

By Jonathan Smith 8 November 2013
Reading Time: 3 Minutes Print this page
Winners of The North Face and Australian Geographic’s adventure grant check out Poison Canyon in Japan, in their preparation for La Réunion Island.

WE’VE HAD A BUSY couple of months arranging our flights, equipment and the nuts and bolts logistics for when we are on La Réunion Island.
While Jonno has been busy in Australia organising our flights, kindly sponsored by Air Austral who fly direct to La Réunion from Sydney, Scott and Linc have been busy in Japan testing out some of the new gear we’ll be taking with us.
The Japanese summer gives them the chance to continue the canyoning season and ongoing training for the trip.

Scott popped over to Europe to update his skills on the latest canyoning techniques, after making a successful assent of Mt Fuji. Linc followed up with a two-week hiking trip across Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, before meeting up with Scott and a few others to descend a special Japanese canyon, called Poison Canyon.

Poison Canyon gets its name from the warm sulphuric water that runs through it. The high concentration of sulphur means that no moss, fish or other little critters can live there.

The boys made a late start hiking into the canyon, which is located on the side of a volcano just outside the famous onsen (hotspring) town of Kusatsu. Although the trip is normally about four or five hours, this was to be the first known descent for the season, and due to the large amount of snow in the area over the winter it’s not uncommon for the anchor bolts to be missing, which can take some time to replace.

The guys said of the trip:

“We followed the stream down and began the descent into the narrow section where it starts to get exciting. We soon found ourselves overheating; the warm air in the canyon combined with the warm water and 5-mm wetsuits were a slight overkill, so when we come to the junction on a cold stream flowing in from the side we all climbed up to a cold pool for a quick cool down.

The first drop after the junction is a narrow 12-m waterfall, plunging into a pool. The group slid down and rested in the pool, contemplating the sauna-like environment they found themselves in – on the side on a snow-covered volcano sitting in a pool of hot water. How cool!

After the group was safely down the drop, we continued down the canyon and to the final 40-m drop. For this final abseil down a waterfall it was necessary to wear goggles to avoid the eye stinging sensation from the warm sulphur water.

The rigging for the final pitch can be a little tricky , but the boys had no problem setting up the anchors and getting the group safely out of the canyon to admire the spectacular scenery.

Poison Canyon is a once-in-a-lifetime trip that only a handful of people have ever experienced. Another great trip to a truly unique place!”

Gear report

Scott and Linc have the advantage of being able to test out gear on a daily basis in their jobs as canyon guides, so over the past month have tested the GoPro helmet mounted HD cams, the latest Pentax W90 camera, which is waterproof and offers a HD moviecam, and the Kodak Playsport, which has to be one of best and lighest waterproof HD handheld video recorders on the market. While the voting panel is still out on the best options, all three offer different advantages in a canyoning environment.
We’ll be taking almost 400 m of Tendon canyoning ropes from our sponsor Climbing Anchors. After many years of using ropes for canyoning, it was clear that we needed the best money could buy for the sharp basalt rock of the Reunion canyons and after several months of testing the Tendon ropes, with their superior sheath strength for abrasion resistance, they came out on top. The North Face has also provided us with some great jackets and duffles to carry the ropes and other technical equipment we’ll need.